Oak Ridge and Knoxville are surrounded by very good bear habitats—including the largest black bear preserve in the world—and it’s not unusual to see up to a half-dozen bears come through the Oak Ridge area each year and at least that many in the Knoxville area, Tennessee wildlife officials said this week.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Sgt. Roy Smith of Morristown said the bear seen in Oak Ridge on Monday was not the first in the area this summer, and there have also been a few in Anderson County.
“It’s not an isolated incident,” Smith said. “We have bears moving through Oak Ridge from time to time.”
Bears have also recently been reported in Andersonville, Claxton, Coalfield, Solway, and Knoxville.
The surrounding bear habitat includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the south, which is the largest black bear preserve in the world; the Cherokee National Forest to the east, a good, large bear habitat; and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area to the north.
Smith said there are a few bears that live year-round in the northwest part of Anderson County around New River and Devonia.
“Sometimes, those bears will find their way down the mountain,” Smith said.
He said the bears seen in populated areas are often young male bears between 1.5 to 2 years old that have been weaned from their mothers and weigh about 150 pounds. There is a period during the summer when there is not a lot of natural food available, and the juvenile male bears are pushed out of good habitats by adult males. The yearlings set out to find their own territory and are often seen in local cities in July and August.
“Bears don’t want to be in these areas just as we don’t want them here,” Smith said.
In the 10 years he’s been working here, Smith said, he’s not aware of any human-bear interactions that became dangerous. Bears are naturally timid and skittish creatures and generally afraid of people.
Still, wildlife officials recommend that people stay away from the bears.
“Give them a wide berth,” TWRA Wildlife Officer Jason Lankford said.
To encourage the bears to continue moving, the TWRA recommends residents put away their trash and try to eliminate other outdoor food sources. Lankford said bears love to eat cat and dog food, bird seed, and whatever they can find in grease traps.
The TWRA said it generally lets the bears move out on their own as long as they keep moving.
“Generally speaking, if those bears are left alone, those bears will move through,” Smith said.
The TWRA occasionally moves the animals if they find a consistent food source and aren’t moving. In that case, they can become habituated to people.
“If they‘re causing problems or they’re staying in the area, not moving, we generally remove them,” Smith said.
The TWRA said people who see bears can call the agency because wildlife workers want to know if the bears, which can cover 20-30 miles per day, are continuing to move.
There were also several reports of bears in Oak Ridge in the late spring last year.